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Developing wholarchy: What would happen if dental offices fostered respectful, creative thinking?

July 21, 2016
Dorothy Garlough, RDH wonders what would happen if dental offices fostered respectful, creative thinking?

By Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

My initial thought for this month's column was to write on the "compound interest of collaboration" and share a story of how the editor of thisf magazine collaborated with me to "save my hide"! However, I have been thinking about the article I penned recently on wholarchy versus hierarchy. My brain is in a state of creative tension with interesting possibilities and I recognize the wisdom in exploring wholarchy's potential ... while the spirit moves me.

The definition for wholarchy formed from my earlier article is: A system or organization in which people are recognized as whole beings with equal value, sharing a focus on what is best for the whole. Any organization (including dental offices) knows that enlisting others in the office's vision is key to its success. Everyone on the team needs to work toward the common goal, and business books abound with best practices on how to align the team to the vision. But people are complex, and what works to motivate one person may not work to motivate another.

It is my supposition that when we look at people as "whole" persons, i.e., mind, body, and spirit, we connect with them at an authentic, deep level. Recognition of others' unique humanity creates a dynamic that leads to growth and development. An office that supports a culture of wholarchy drives home a "get-busy-living" mindset, a thinking that promotes purposeful living. Individual interests and talents are promoted and there is genuine celebration of one another's growth. In return, the skills obtained through an individual's expansion enhance the working environment at every metric, leading to the success of the organization. In this article, I'll explore how mindfulness and practices such as meditation are linked to the development of wholarchy and success in the dental practice.

Scientific studies reveal that depression is 10 times higher today than in the 1960s, and the mean age of depression is now 14.5 years old!1 We also know that prolonged illness can lead to depression. Science supports the connection of the mind and the body. Additionally, people under intense and extended stress produce the hormone cortisol, which not only inhibits clear thinking but also can lead to diseases of the body over time. There is a growing body of evidence on the benefits of mindful practices in the control of stress. Even professional athletes are receiving training in mindful visualization. Yin yoga, the practice of holding challenging yoga poses for three to five minutes, requires a focus on quieting the mind while allowing the body to grow stronger in a state of rest. Linking the mind to the body enables athletes to bring their best, most focused self to their competitive events.

The recent rise of the ancient practice of yoga is evidence of the recognition that nourishing our internal selves is as important as nourishing our external selves. Though the United States is the richest country in the world, it ranks 13th on the 2016 World Happiness Index.2 This indicates that more money doesn't necessarily lead to happiness, and yet happiness is the ultimate goal and measure of success for all of us!

Harvard's Positive Psychology 1504, a course on happiness taught by Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, has been one of the university's most popular courses since it began in 2006.3 This course focuses on "the psychological aspects of life fulfillment and flourishing by teaching empathy, friendship, love, achievement, creativity, spirituality, happiness, and humor."3 Rich relationships, an attitude of gratitude, and meditation are three elements that are shown to increase the happiness quotient.

Ramalinga Raju, the founder of Satyam Computer Services, uses a rich metaphor to describe the process of building a multinational company with over $1 billion in sales and 35,000 employees: "If you are swimming on the surface, then you are unlikely to find pearls because they are deep underneath and you have to dive down: You have to go into a fair amount of depth on any particular issue that you take up." When asked about his process for finding solutions to complex problem solving, Raju says, "I meditate."

Transcendental meditation, which was pinned with a hippie label in the 1960s, has transformed into a mainstream practice. Researchers at Harvard claim that as little as two (yes, two) minutes a day of meditation helps to rewire our brains, creating new synapses and allowing for internal dialogue to be turned down as we tune into our inner needs.4 Evidently, turning off the mental chatter, what is referred to as "monkey mind" in yoga, is a healthful practice! Learning to simply focus on the breath clears the mind, reduces blood pressure, and provides rich, oxygenated blood to every cell in our body. The brain, which uses 20% of our oxygen, is especially enriched in meditation and may be why many people experience insights after a mindful practice.

Our brain is part of the visible, tangible world of the body and is considered the next frontier in medicine. Our mind, on the other hand, is part of the invisible, conscious, and unconscious world of thought, feeling, attitude, belief, and imagination. The brain is the physical organ most associated with mind and consciousness, but the mind is not confined to the brain. Could it be that our mind is linked to our spirit?

Literature and daily language is filled with references to spirit-"the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," the "indomitable spirit," "in good spirits," "that's the spirit," "when the spirit moves you," "the spirit is broken," "free spirit," "uplift the spirit," "enter into the spirit of," and "kindred spirit" are but some examples. Renowned business gurus Ken Blanchard and Shawn Bowles say in their book Gung Ho! that "lots of labor [workplace] troubles have spirit issues at the core. Lack of respect may be the biggest."

The wholarchical system that I am proposing is one where we implement tools within our dental practices that lead to balanced, expansive, and inclusive creative thinking. In an article about twentieth-century philosopher Marshall McLuhan, academic John Culkin wrote, "We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us." Tools that promote higher-order thinking lead to respectful behavior, which leads to synergy in the team. The symbiosis of a team always leads to success.

What if a model of wholarchy were developed for dental offices? What might it look like? How could it be developed? Where might this thinking lead? The synapses in my brain are becoming wired in a different way as I think deeply on this model. Endorphins are being produced and I may become addicted to these "feel-good" natural hormones!

Over the next few months, I will attempt to cultivate the seed of a wholarchical dental office and nurture the idea through the many questions that my readers and I have. The possibility of developing a more laterally powered dental office, one where all the team members are looked upon as "whole" persons, is exhilarating to me. What might be the outcome of developing a culture where mind, body, and spirit can flourish? It will be a discovery process as I explore this uncharted territory, and this column will pursue this train of thought . . . while I'm in the spirit! RDH


1. Shawn A. The Happiness Advantage. New York, New York: Crown Publishing Group; 2010.
2. Hrala J. The World Happiness Index 2016 just ranked the happiest countries on Earth. Science Alert website. http://www.sciencealert.com/the-world-happiness-index-2016-just-ranked-the-happiest-countries-on-earth. Published March 17, 2016. Accessed May 25, 2016.
3. Pennock SF. Positive Psychology 1504: Harvard's Groundbreaking Course. Positive Psychology Program website. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/harvard-positive-psychology-course-1504/. Published June 16, 2015. Accessed May 25, 2016.
4. Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds the Brain's Gray Matter in 8 Weeks. FeelGuide website. http://www.feelguide.com/2014/11/19/harvard-unveils-mri-study-proving-meditation-literally-rebuilds-the-brains-gray-matter-in-8-weeks/. Published Nov 19, 2014. Accessed May 25, 2016.
5. Blanchard B, Bowles S. Gung Ho! Turn On the People in Any Organization. New York, New York: William and Morrow Company, Inc.; 1998:140.

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change within dentistry. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation, and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at [email protected] or visit engagingteams.com.